The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 18, 2012
News that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was in Taos last Saturday to hear comments about how best to preserve the Rio Grande del Norte is sending hearts aflutter across Northern New Mexico. Traditionally, before land is set aside, a last, listening meeting takes place, meaning (cross your fingers) that before the end of 2012, the designation of the Rio Grande del Norte as deserving special protection will happen.
This status would protect some of Northern New Mexico’s most precious outdoors areas, whether for hunting, fishing, rafting, wood cutting, grazing or plain ol’ enjoying. A dream of a wide variety of norteños, this designation — some 236,00 acres of public land northwest of Taos — also is a fitting tribute to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who is retiring after 30 years in the Senate. Indian, Hispanic and Anglo peoples of the north, outdoorsmen and conservationists, business owners and environmentalists all have worked together to show the benefits of preserving the area, which contains parts of the Rio Grande Gorge, Ute Mountain and the Taos Plateau; in other words, some of the most spectacular and wild places in New Mexico.
Because the current Congress has been so reluctant to preserve wilderness — this session likely will be the first since 1966 where lawmakers fail to set aside new areas for protection — it could fall to President Barack Obama to use his executive powers instead. Under the Antiquities Act, the president can designate this important recreational and wildlife area as a national monument. Instead of the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area, we could have the Rio Grande del Norte Monument. Either works.
We urge the president to follow in the footsteps of conservation pioneer President Teddy Roosevelt, and even President Richard Nixon, both of whom knew the value of the wild. It was Roosevelt who started the practice of setting aside land so the wild core of this nation would not be lost. Nixon was the president who returned the sacred Blue Lake to Taos Pueblo — a victory both for the rights of indigenous peoples and for the land itself. Today, more than ever, this country must preserve the wild, safeguard our water and protect people’s access to nature. Creating the Rio Grande del Norte Monument is in the best tradition of our nation and in the best interests of New Mexico.